A Buddhability Guide to Dealing With Stress

(Photo above by Nothing Ahead / Pexels)

It can feel like stressors are lurking around every corner: school, work, in our relationships, the state of our world and definitely in our commute home. Stress can be found even in the most mundane of tasks. Moving to a new home is frequently listed as one of top stressors in life.

We’d often rather avoid stress at all costs and for good reason. Noted health journalist Thea Singer writes, “Stress, when it’s chronic or repeated, does more than unnerve us; it can make us physically sick.” She then lists the negative effects stress can have on our body. It can impair our memory, weaken our immune system, give us anxiety and accelerate aging.

But stress is a double-edged sword. It can propel us to do great things. Singer writes:

Without stress, we’d be as good as dead. We wouldn’t have the gumption to slalom down Whistler’s mountains to Olympic gold, to play Juliet to our Romeo, to ask the boss for a raise or even to get out of bed. That’s because stress in appropriate amounts is the very stimulation that keeps us engaged with the world moment to moment.

Thea Singer

If we handle stress correctly, it can drive us to bring out the best from ourselves. In fact, a pioneer researcher in the physiological effects of stress, Dr. Hans Selye, calls stress “the spice of life.”

How can we use stress for good and avoid its negative effects? American psychologist and philosopher William James famously writes, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

In other words, if we can change our inner state of life and believe in ourselves, then the way we handle stress changes. Singer notes, “Someone who’s generally anxious is likely to see a stressor as a threat, while someone who’s resilient will see that same stressor as a challenge.”

If we can change our inner state of life and believe in ourselves, then the way we handle stress changes.

Buddhism teaches that how we experience the world depends on our inner state of life. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is a way to believe in ourselves against all odds each day. When we chant, we are declaring that we have the courage and wisdom needed to take on any situation. Stress then becomes a tool to help us rise to the occasion of whatever problem we are facing.

Buddhist philosopher, Daisaku Ikeda, writes:

Physical and mental training transform our experience of things. The same steep slope that for the unskilled skier provokes only terror is, for the expert, a source of excitement and joy. Likewise, with persistent study, we can draw knowledge and inspiration from the most deep and difficult text.

Daisaku Ikeda

Once we overcome a challenge we thought was impossible, we develop greater confidence in ourselves and have the capacity to take on even bigger challenges. Our Buddhist practice allows us to dig deeper and deeper with each difficulty we face. When we do this again and again, we become unshakable.

From the Buddhist perspective, a stressful situation is a challenge to believe in ourselves like never before.

From the Buddhist perspective, a stressful situation is a challenge to believe in ourselves like never before.

A supportive community greatly reduces stress

Of course, there are times where we are naturally overwhelmed by a situation, and that’s okay. That’s why, in addition to digging deep and believing in ourselves, we also need a support system around us.

Singer writes:

Brain scans show that the same circuitry fires up when we feel emotional pain as when we feel physical pain. But that circuitry is slower to react in those with greater social support in their daily lives.

A strong social support system relieves us stress and gives us strength.

This is why, since the beginning of Buddhism, there is a sangha, or supportive Buddhist community. Daisaku Ikeda writes:

The Buddhist sutras contain this well-known parable: One day, Shakyamuni was approached by a woman wracked by grief at the loss of her child. She begged him to bring her baby back to life. Shakyamuni comforted her and offered to prepare a medicine that would revive her child. To make this he would need a mustard seed, which he instructed her to find in a nearby village. This mustard seed, however, would have to come from a home that had never experienced the death of a family member. The woman set out from house to house, asking each for a mustard seed. But nowhere could she find a home that had never known death. As she continued her quest, the woman began to realize her suffering was something shared by all people. She returned to Shakyamuni determined not to be overwhelmed by grief.

It’s easier to give in to despair when we feel alone. When we are connected with others, however, we see our stressful situation in a different light. We begin to understand that overcoming our difficulty will inspire the people we are connected to who are suffering with the same thing. This gives us greater strength to move forward.

We should never feel guilty or less than because we are stressed out about a serious event in our lives. However, when we have an empowering philosophy that teaches we have the Buddhability to win over anything and friends around us we can talk to, stress can become our “spice of life” and lead us to do great things.

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